Tag Archives: multiculturalism

Multiculturalism: a Christian retrieval

“Is it possible for a society marked by deep ethnic and religious diversity to identify a workable framework for deep diversity which does justice to all communities?”

Answering this question is the burden of Jonathan Chaplin’s recent Theos booklet entitled ‘Multiculturalism: a Christian retrieval’. In less than a hundred pages, Jonathan explains what multiculturalism is and what it is interpreted to be, and discusses how, and why, Christians can and should retrieve it. His argument is more than a liberal plea for a thin conception of ‘tolerance’, and is predicated on an affirmation of multicultural justice rooted in concrete policies and a deeper definition of shared citizenship.

CTC and PEN was pleased to welcome Jonathan Chaplin to East London recently for a seminar to discuss his essay with local clergy and members of the PEN Network. We met at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre, the UK headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service, in Wapping. A diverse group including academics, parish clergy, community organisers and friends of CTC listened as Jonathan outlined his argument and put forward the case for a Christian vision of multiculturalism.

The seminar was received well, and generated a great deal of discussion. Clergy working in the very diverse neighbourhoods of inner-city London reflected on how they felt out of place when returning to predominantly white British areas when on holiday or conference. Different understandings of secularism, and the appropriateness of religious language when negotiating divergent identities, were debated and the legitimacy of different uses of the word ‘multiculturalism’ assessed. Afterwards, those attending said how valuable it had been to have the space to think about and discuss this topic away from the day-to-day practice of mission and ministry in a multicultural, multiethnic context.

The success of this seminar format, and the fruitfulness of the discussion, means that CTC and PEN will be exploring the possibility of making this a more regular programme. If you’d like more details of future events like this, please contact the PEN administrator, Susanne Mitchell, on pen(at)theology-centre.org.

Tagged , ,

The Bible and Politics

Nick Spencer from public theology think-tank Theos has written a new book to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible entitled Freedom and Order: History Politics and the English Bible.  It discusses the relationship over history between politics and English politics.

Over on the Theos website, Nick Spencer has sparked some thoughts on tolerance connected with the book which are worth a read.

And on the Biblefresh website can be found an article exploring the Bible’s contribution to politics in Britain.

Tagged , , , ,

Andrew Brown: Behind the Burqa Ban’s Reasoning

Andrew Brown has posted a characteristically balanced and intelligent article on the Guardian website about the ban on women wearing the burqa or niqab in public just introduced in France.

He is caustic in his argument that the ban is not about free speech as such, but about the state’s right to make and promote value judgements:

This seems to me to be less about speech than about beliefs: it implies a claim that French citizens believe – or at least live as if they believed – in particular values. Is that something that a state can legitimately ask? The question is idiotic. It is something that all states do, in fact, demand. In the case of France, there is a well worked-out set of principles to which all citizens are expected to subscribe. This is more than Charles de Gaulle’s “certaine idée de la France“: it is a particular idea of being French. Values and people cannot be disentangled. A state that is grounded on particular values demands that its citizens live by them, too.

Though this remark evokes a fair degree of chagrin in the comments section following his article, Andrew Brown’s argument has a touch of the Emperor’s new clothes about it.  It is incredibly hard to sustain a convincing argument that the state can be genuinely neutral. Indeed, Britain may not be the ‘Christian’ society it once was but it remains heavily value-laden. Laws against discrimination – especially when some rights are decided to trump others – or the expression of hatred, for example, clearly express values.

Yet acknowledging that our society remains underpinned by values – however opaque – is an uncomfortable truth for many to hear when set alongside the liberal mantra of free choice. It is a truth which exposes those values to scrutiny. That is not to say they are necessarily wrong, but it does caution us to not see them as immutable.

This is particularly important when it comes to the issue of social cohesion. If we lose sight of the values underpinning the state and therefore stop articulating, justifying and defending them, then we should not be surprised when people ‘turn off’ from politics.  As Andrew rightly observes, a state that rules by force alone is tyranny.

A constant refrain among critics of the current government is that people did not vote for them. That may be true, but it exposes an ignorance of how a plural democracy is supposed to work. Competitive electoral systems like ours often have a fragmentary impact on political and social divisions, breeding a ‘winner takes all’ attitude. In the absence of a shared conception of the common good for which our government should strive, a democracy gives the victor all the power and all the decisions. Opponents feel powerless in response.

Losing a sense of the values underpinning our state may well be a contributory factor feeding the current sense of political discord and disillusionment. The answer to that will not be a change of government. It may be to recognise once more that our state, like any state, is based on values. Identifying, sharing and defending those values might just be a step in the direction of a more consensual system and more empowered electorate. And it might help us think more clearly about what is going on elsewhere in Europe.

Tagged , , ,

Fear and Hope

The Searchlight Educational Trust has recently published Fear and HOPE.  This report, based on extensive polling research, gives a fascinating snapshot of current attitudes to identity and extremism in Britain today.

The report captures both the good and the bad.  It demonstrates widespread suspicion of ‘the Other’ – especially Muslims – and shows growing support for a non-violent alternative to the EDL.  A clear correlation between antagonistic views of immigration and economic pessimism means that in the current fiscal context the issue is only likely to worsen.

One the more encouraging side is the apparent fluidity of attitudes to identity, and in particular the openness of younger people.  Furthermore, a huge majority of people reject anti-Muslim extremists as being as bad as Muslim extremists.  Around 60% of respondents believed that positive approaches – including community organising – were the best way to combat extremism in their communities.

The report is worth reading for its empirically based insights into the current situation.  It highlights graphically the dangers of leaving the issues of race, immigration and integration unaddressed. The report’s authors deliberately throw down the gauntlet to the political classes to confront the issue head-on.  As Jon Cruddas MP argues in the Foreword, the core findings of the report “should ricochet through the body politic”.

Yet while the report is focused on “the politics of identity” it also raises interesting questions for Christian readers.  If the imperative to respond is so great for politicians, then surely it must be so for church leaders too.  Does the church today articulate a robust enough “theology of identity” in an age when the search for belonging and community seems to be growing?

Of course there are Christians articulating answers.  Organisations like the Presence and Engagement Network are beginning to address this question by resourcing church leaders and congregations.  Recently, the Contextual Theology Centre helped secure a bid by the Church Urban Fund to run the Near Neighbours programme.  Yet however valuable they are these remain limited in resources and geographic reach.  It is also obvious that Christians need theological resources as well as practical ones to feel equipped for the debate that is becoming unavoidable.

How do we affirm our common humanity with those of different cultures and religions while also engaging with the very real concerns felt by the majority of the population?  In seeking to be hospitable to the alien in our midst, who might the church risk alienating?  How can the local church be a catalyst for community cohesion?

These questions and more need to be answered.  In the meantime, Fear and HOPE provides a much needed look at the state of the issue today.

Tagged , , , ,

Cameron and Multiculturalism

David Cameron made a speech recently in Munich on the subject of state multiculturalism and religious radicalisation.  You can read the speech in full on the Number 10 website.

Amidst the flurry of public reaction to it, a great deal of which relied on misrepresentation of what was actually said, it is worth drawing attention to several different responses from the Christian blogosphere.

First, John Milbank, a Fellow of the Contextual Theology Centre, wrote a response to Cameron’s speech on the Respublica blog which argued for a more communitarian understanding of multiculturalism.

Milbanks suggests that “mere liberalism encourages a clumping into a restricted number of group-identities and so gives us, precisely multiculturalism of the most anarchic kind”.  He writes, “if Cameron could express more boldly the positive shared character of the British identity, including its peculiar religious aspect, he would far less risk offending Muslims and corroding British solidarity for the future. In order fully to reject merely liberal multiculturalism he needs to move beyond mere liberalism. But in doing so he could be kinder to a multiculturalism of a more organicist variety.”

Second, Robert Jackson wrote an insightful comment on the website of think-tank Ekklesia which sought a more nuanced understanding of the reality of a multifaith culture than the picture painted by Cameron.  In particular, Jackson argues for the importance of religious education in schools in facilitating greater understanding between religions and cultures.

Finally, the Charities Parliament blog from Faithworks has a short response from the Christian and Muslim Forum.

Tagged , , ,